What is the process of bhakti?
Swami Satyananda: When bhakti overpowers the devotee, this physical body is converted into another material. In the beginning bhakti transforms emotions, then it transforms the mind, then it transforms one's attitudes, then it transforms one's perception; and maybe it transforms the physical body. The body can be disintegrated into the form of light. The body can be transformed into the form of flowers. The power of bhakti is great. It is not only going to a sanctum sanctorum. Of course one can go, it is good; it is better than going to a pub, but it is not the ultimate.
This body is the temple. Krishna, or God, resides within. The devotees start from outside first, then go inside, then develop love. They go on developing it more and more. First they forget all their difficulties, then they forget all their relationships, then they forget past, present and future, and finally, they forget themselves. This is how the divine metamorphosis takes place.
What is the meaning of the word bhakti?
Swami Satyananda: The word bhakti comes from the root bhaja, which means 'to adore, serve, love; to be devoted'. This is exactly what bhakti yoga is all about. It is the path of devotion. The word bhakta comes from the same root and means 'a person who practises bhakti yoga, who feels devotion'.
How does love transform into bhakti?
Swami Satyananda: Bhakti means love, but this love contains an important element called shraddha, faith. Love with shraddha is bhakti. One may love one's guru, one may love one's disciples or children, or one's brother, sister or wife, anyone - it can just be pure love or it can be love with shraddha. When the love is mixed and synthesized with shraddha, it becomes bhakti.
Real love and bhakti are one. Sufi saints call it ishq haqiqi. Real love and bhakti are the inner path, which everyone can think of. Worries are a constant bother. Just as one is constantly surrounded by sorrow, love, hate, likes and dislikes, similarly, the thought of God should be constantly with one, as much as possible. This is the only truth, the rest is nothing!
In bhakti yoga, the most important thing is to be able to love God and if one can do this, one should follow the bhakti path. The intensity of love for God has to be such that the total energy, the total awareness and the total mind are consumed. The moment there is awareness of the beloved, all one's energies are consumed and one forgets one's surroundings. That is bhakti yoga, the yoga in which the mind is given to awareness of the Supreme Being.
How can one practise bhakti yoga?
Swami Satyananda: The pandas, temple worshippers, perform pooja in the temples, but their heart and feeling is not in it. On the other hand, although a mother does not chant the names of her family while she is cooking their food, she is always conscious of them. She feels that she is cooking for her child or husband, and that they will like it in a certain way. That remembrance is constantly at the back of her mind. This has to be the attitude towards God while performing all one's worldly duties and actions.
Bhakti is a feeling. It is not the religious act performed in a church or temple. That is a ritual, a physical action which may be necessary for one reason or another, but that is not the definition of bhakti. It is the feeling the mother has for the child. It is the feeling the lover has for the beloved. It is the feeling of one enemy for another, where the hate becomes an obsession, and even while eating or sleeping, one can't forget!
Bhakti yoga is not a practice; nothing has to be done. With kriya yoga the external practices have to be done. In bhakti there is just love for God. It is not even necessary to sing His name. Bhakti is true love, divine love, and for that there are no practices, neither asana, nor pranayama, nor mudras, nor bandhas, nothing. It is a feeling, an awareness, like passion, hatred, anger and attachment. What does one do? One feels it.
Bhakti yoga is the easiest path because here one operates with emotions, with faith and belief. It is not the path of pranayama, or kundalini, or hatha yoga, karma yoga or jnana yoga. It is the path of 'self yoga' - everything is within me. I mobilize my willpower and the God within me is awakened.
How does one make the leap from faith to higher awareness?
Swami Satyananda: Bhakti is both the means to and the expression of higher awareness. It is both the practice and the spontaneous expression of higher knowledge. One leads to the other. Until a certain point on the path of bhakti yoga, there is more faith than experience, but once one has had a definite experience then the whole situation changes. One comes to know that there is indeed a direction to one's aspirations and practices. Bhakti becomes an experience. From then onwards, one knows that one is not chasing a mirage like a person in the desert.
This bhakti increases, increases and goes on increasing. This bhakti spans the infinite chasm between mere faith and divine realization, and it covers the period when the bhakta attempts to live and express this realization in everyday life. Bhakti bridges the abyss between lack of divine knowledge backed by faith, and the personal experience and knowledge of divinity.
Bhakti is not a subject for discussion; it must be felt, known and experienced. Real bhakti arises spontaneously through higher awareness and knowledge due to realization of something not known before. Bhakti is the expression and experience of joy at realizing the impossible, at being confronted with direct perception of that which is beyond words. Real bhakti cannot be created artificially, for it is an expression of bliss, of something beyond the wildest flights of the imagination.